British Security Forces Push Anti-Terror Reforms
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair met today with opposition leaders in a push to secure new anti-terrorist legislation following the London bombings. One of the measures being considered is a police demand to hold terror suspects for up to three months.
Meanwhile, the search continues for four men wanted for last Thursday's attempt to explode bombs on London's mass transit system. Police yesterday made a new appeal to the public for help, releasing additional pictures of three of the four men suspected of planting the bombs. Joining me now from London is NPR's Rachel Martin. Hello.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
MONTAGNE: What kinds of changes does the British government want to make to the anti-terror laws?
MARTIN: Well, there are two primary changes on the table. Police and security services are pushing for an extension of their powers to hold suspected terrorists. Currently, they're allowed to hold suspects for 14 days and they say that's not enough to go through telephone taps, e-mail or other intelligence. Michael Howard, who's the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, agrees that the current 14 days don't appear to be enough. But he says holding suspects for three months is just too long, so it looks like there could be room for compromise somewhere in between.
Meanwhile, conservatives are calling for a change in the laws that would allow phone tap evidence in court. Now that's currently banned under British law. Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he backs the idea of allowing wiretap evidence in court, but he says he wants to hear the views of the security services. And they say that doing so could jeopardize their sources and intelligence-gathering operations.
On the whole, there's been consensus within the political establishment in the wake of the attacks and how the investigation has been handled. There's definitely been a rallying effect of sorts after the bombings around the government and Tony Blair. He's enjoying high poll ratings; his second highest since taking office.
MONTAGNE: And what is the latest in the investigation into the bombing?
MARTIN: Police investigators spent most of the night at an apartment complex in north London. They're searching for clues and evidence that could lead them to the suspected bombers. Police raided the flat yesterday and arrested two men close by. That brings the total number of arrests made to five.
The apartment has been linked to a 27-year-old Somali man named Muktar Said Ibraihim. He's one of the suspected bombers whose identities were revealed yesterday by authorities. Police also named 24-year-old Yasin Hassan Omar. as one of the four suspected bombers still at large. Authorities also released additional photographs of the suspects taken from closed-circuit television footage. Police have honed in on this apartment in a gritty part of north London. Neighbors in the area say they knew of at least four men living in that flat over a period of time, and that visitors were seen coming and going at all hours of the night and day. Neighbors say about a month ago the apartment received a shipment of roughly 50 cardboard boxes. When they asked what was in them, neighbors were told it was paint stripper.
We know Said Ibraihim is from Somalia and neighbors say one of the other men in the flat was also a Somali. British immigration officials are combing through records of political asylum and refugee applications from East Africa, and police have appealed to East African community leaders to help cooperate in the investigation.
MONTAGNE: There are also new developments over last Friday's shooting death of an innocent Brazilian man by police--British police. I mean, the Brazilian government is--and the Brazilian people are a bit up in arms. What can you tell us about that?
MARTIN: There are two things going on. One is the formal investigation of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by an independent police commission. There's also a coroner's investigation of how Menezes died. Police told a coroner's inquest yesterday that anti-terrorist officers fired eight shots from close range at the man. Seven bullets went into his head and one went into his shoulder. Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for the shooting, but the family of the man say it's not enough and they are considering filing suit against the Metropolitan Police.
MONTAGNE: And Rachel, back to the four suspected bombers who are still at large. What's been the public's reaction?
MARTIN: There are a couple of polls out today gauging public reaction to recent events. One notes an increase in concerns among people about traveling into central London. And another poll surveyed Muslims in the country and found that apparently hundreds of thousands of Muslims around Britain have thought about leaving the country since the attacks because of fears of an anti-Muslim backlash.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Rachel Martin in London.
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